A-Rod: 3rd to homer for 3,000th hit
NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez needed just one swing to join the 3,000-hit club, and the Yankees slugger accomplished the feat in style, circling the bases as the 29th player to reach the milestone plateau in a 7-2 victory over the Tigers on Friday at Yankee Stadium.
With specially marked balls in play and the crowd of 44,588 standing in hopes of witnessing history, Rodriguez pounced on a 95-mph fastball from Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander and drove it to right field, where outfielder J.D. Martinez ran out of room against the auxiliary scoreboard.
"I'm grateful. I'm extremely appreciative to the Yankees, giving me an opportunity to put the uniform back on," Rodriguez said. "There were days last year that I never thought I would sometimes get that uniform back on and to be able to play in this stadium in front of these fans. And for that I'm thankful to the Steinbrenner family and the whole Yankee organization."
Rodriguez grinned as he rounded the bases and was greeted first at home plate by Mark Teixeira, who enveloped his longtime teammate in a hug. As the rest of the Yankees' roster spilled out of the dugout, Rodriguez pointed to the seats behind home plate, blowing a kiss to his daughters, Ella and Natasha.
The center-field scoreboard displayed a large graphic that read: "Congratulations Alex, 3,000," and the cheering crowd summoned Rodriguez out of the dugout for a curtain call before he finally disappeared out of view, collecting his thoughts in what he called an emotional "tug of war."
"I'm sure it's a pleasure for him to get it out of the way," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm sure he's been thinking about it for the last few days, coming home, probably wanting to do it here."
Rodriguez, who will turn 40 next month, is the first player to reach 3,000 hits since Derek Jeter did so in July 2011. Jeter and Rodriguez are the only players to reach the 3,000-hit mark in a Yankees uniform; Wade Boggs (1999), Jeter and Rodriguez are the only players to achieve the milestone with a home run.
"I was just thinking aggressive, get a good pitch to hit and not try to do too much," Rodriguez said. "That's kind of been my approach all year. I've pretty much forgotten about the home run and really just tried to be a good hitter."
Compared to the celebration four years ago for Jeter's accomplishment, there was noticeably less buildup for Rodriguez's chase of the round number. Rodriguez's previous admissions of performance-enhancing drug use and season-long suspension in 2014 created a much different tone.
Four years ago, the Rays applauded in unison for Jeter's homer; on Friday, the Tigers mostly declined to acknowledge the moment, though a few opponents did tip their caps. After the game's final out, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera offered Rodriguez a congratulatory hug, which Rodriguez said was meaningful.
"He's been very open about how appreciative he is to get the opportunity to come back and play," Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said. "A year ago he wasn't sure what the future held for him. Ever since Day 1 of Spring Training he's been great; he's been a lot of fun to be around."
Rodriguez joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray and Rafael Palmeiro as the only players to log both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs; Rodriguez has 667 career homers with the drive off Verlander, against whom he has hit five career homers.
"We've had some epic battles over the years; he's won most of them," Rodriguez said. "But I knew he liked to stay in the strike zone; I've done well, and when I've chased he's done very well against me, so I got a good pitch to hit and hit it well."
Verlander said that he wasn't sure if Rodriguez would swing at a first pitch so early in the game.
"In retrospect, I think he was trying to get 3,000 out of the way," Verlander said. "It's a pitch that historically I know that he likes. It was outside, it was on the black, but it was just a hair up. He knows, especially in this ballpark, you've just got to put the barrel on it and it's going to go."
David Price, who served up Jeter's 3,000th hit and watched Friday from the visiting dugout, opined that he cannot view Rodriguez's achievement to be as special as Jeter's.
"Not because of everything he's been through, but the fact that Jeter spent his entire career here and got all those hits on the biggest stage in baseball, wearing pinstripes for the New York Yankees," Price said.
Rodriguez, who played seven seasons (1994-2000) in Seattle and three (2001-03) for the Rangers before collecting 1,465 hits and counting with the Yankees, cannot do much about that now. He will settle for the support of his current fan base, adopting a tone of humility after what he called his "dark days" of 2014.
"I'm doing everything in my power to prepare, to work hard, to do things the right way and to finish my career where I can be proud and do it the right way," Rodriguez said.